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January 19, 2016

Preview: Angie Tribeca 1x1 (US: TBS)

Posted on January 19, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Angie Tribeca

In the US: Mondays, 9pm, TBS. Starts January 25th
In the UK: Not yet acquired

It's been a while since we've had a good US cop spoof. Back in the 80s, there were Police Squad and Sledge Hammer to make us laugh with pastiches of the then-conventions of the genre, as well as some plain old silliness.

Since then, it's been a desert, I tell you. A desert. But now from the brains of Steve and Nancy Carell comes Police Squad again. A little different, but still basically Police Squad.

Angie Tribeca stars Rashida Jones as the eponymous Tribeca, a lonewolf detective who works alone. Then along comes partner number 237 (Mr Ali Larter aka Hayes MacArthur from Perfect Couples and Really) and finally there's someone who might be able to accommodate her uniquely tough working methods.

And that's basically the plot. There's a tough gruff police captain (Jere Burns from Dear John USA and Help Me Help You). There's all manner of guest suspects (Lisa Kudrow and Gary Cole). But that's about it. 

But that's not what the show's really about it. It's about a series of scenes containing sight gags, stunts, jokes and whatever else it fancies, all of which are intended to make you laugh in more or less the same way Sledge Hammer and Police Squad did. Sometimes that's by undermining conventions, such as continuing conversations that would normally be ended by a scene cut or left implicit; sometimes it's by verbal jokes, such as having every line begin "with all due respect"; sometimes it's by visual fun, such as having the suspect jog off while an obvious stunt double does gymnastics to pursue him unnecessarily dramatically; and sometimes it's just by doing something odd, like having MacArthur plummet to his death and then pop back unharmed in the next episode.

All of this description kills the comedy, of course, so I'm going to stop with it now. I so am. Watch the trailer instead.

The show takes about 10 minutes for the first episode to transcend sixth form-review style comedy and to become actually funny, but after that it's frequently laugh out loud funny, so I'm definitely going to stick with it.

PS If you're quick, TBS is streaming the entire first season right now, so you can watch it all in one go, but only for another day or so. The show's already been renewed for a second season, too. 

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January 18, 2016

Review: Occupied (Okkupert) 1x1 (Norway: TV2; UK: Sky Arts)

Posted on January 18, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Occupied (Okkupert)

In Norway: TV2. Aired from October 2015
In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Sky Arts

What is science-fiction? It's a harder question than you might think. As soon as you think you know what it is - it's set in outer space, it involves some non-existent technology or science, it involves aliens - you can think of some counter-example, such as The Man In The High Castle that doesn't fit your rules. Often, it boils down to a definition like that of pornography: you know it when you see it.

Even then, there are disagreements. Think back to 1987 and you'll remember the BBC's Star Cops. Set in the then far-off year of 2027, it simply tried to imagine what life would be like in that year, particularly when it comes to investigating crime. No aliens, yet clearly science-fiction, with its imagined new technologies (computer viruses! Personal digital assistants!), moon bases and space stations. 

Star Cops, for all its ambitions at future reality, suffered from the fact that like most future-set science-fiction, it was an extrapolation of the then present. Like 2010, The Terminator and other 80s sci-fi shows, it assumed that the USSR and an aggressive Russia would be intact in the future and antagonistic to the West. My, how we laughed at their naivety when the Berlin Wall fell, and even Terminator 2 had to revise the franchise's predicted 1997 to take account of the fact the "Russians are our friends now". 

My, how we laugh at our naivety now. Who predicted the rise of Valdimir Putin and the return of an antagonistic Russia? Who foresaw the return of Russian jets probing Norway's airspace? Apparently, Chris Boucher did in Star Cops. Sorry for laughing at you in the 90s, Chris. 

All of which takes us to Occupied (Okkupert), a thriller based on an idea by noted Scandi author Jo Nesbø that could be described as science-fiction or political thriller, depending where you sit in the whole 'what is science fiction?' debate. Set in the 'near future', it predicts the US achieving energy self-sufficiency and withdrawing from NATO, leaving the EU and other nations in the West to try to get by on dwindling oil reserves, largely produced by Norway.

Then in the wake of a climate change-induced hurricane that devastates Norway, along comes a new Norwegian prime minister (Henrik Mestad) with a strong green agenda. He shuts down oil production and instead offers the world nuclear-generated electricity powered by Norway's Thorium reserves. Except the EU and other neighbouring countries aren't too impressed by the instant move to green power - how exactly do you run existing petrol-powered cars on nuclear energy? - and in a somewhat radical move, team up with the Russians to force Norway to start up oil production.

The Russians kidnap Mestad, make it clear what's going to happen next, and before you know it, Russia's doing a 'US in Vietnam' and sending in teams of 'advisors' (with Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunships) to help Norway crank up oil production again. Yes, Russia has invaded Norway - although Mestad tries to convince everyone that it's all very peaceful - and there's seemingly nothing anyone can or will do about repelling the former superpower.

Or is there? Because Norway has its own Jack Bauer - security service guard Hans Martin Djupvik (Eldar Skar) - and he's going to do his upmost to deal with the Russians, in his own way.

Here's the original Norwegian trailer for the show or you can watch the unembeddable English-language one over on Sky Arts.

Continue reading "Review: Occupied (Okkupert) 1x1 (Norway: TV2; UK: Sky Arts)"

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January 14, 2016

Review: Spin (Les hommes de l'ombre) 1x1-1x2 (France: France2; UK: More4)

Posted on January 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Spin (Les hommes de l'ombre)

In the UK: Fridays, 9pm, More4. Also available on Walter Presents
In France: Aired on France 2, 2012-2014

To the rest of the world, it can sometimes seem like the only TV channel in France that makes scripted French-language television is Canal+. Take your pick of shows - Engrenages (Spiral), The Last Panthers, Les Revenants, Braquo, The Tunnel - if it's at least partly in French, it's going to be from Canal+.

TF1? That only makes English language shows, like Crossing Lines, Jo and Taxi Brooklyn, surely?

This, of course, is not the case. TF1 makes plenty of French-language shows - TMINE's pal Monsieur Thierry Attard will point you in their direction in both English and French, if you're so inclined. There are also plenty of other French TV channels out there making TV in French. It's just we've never really bothered importing it until now.

But having poached all its formats back in the 80s when it was just starting up and now newly awakened to its ratings potential thanks to the success of Les Revenants, Channel 4 is once again looking at French TV as a potential way to fill up the airwaves - as well as the Internet, thanks to Walter Presents. And since everyone, even BBC Four, has been a bit lax at airing anything French for the past 30 years or so, that means Channel 4 is free to pick its way through all of French TV's archives for the cream of the crop.

So, firstly, we have to thank Walter. Les hommes de l'ombre first aired on pubcaster France 2 nearly four years ago. But despite popping up at 2013's Totally Serialized (you could have won tickets to see it, thanks to this 'ere blog, in fact) and featuring the Only Handsome French Actor Everyone Knows About, Grégory Fitoussi (Engrenages, American Odyssey, Mr Selfridge, World War Z, GI Joe), no one bothered with it until Walter picked it for his web site. 

And it's a good choice. Despite its misleadingly translated English title of Spin, it's actually quite a hard hitting political thriller looking at public perceptions, PR, deception by the state, and modern political campaigns. It stars Bruno Wolkowitch (The Tourist) as Simon Kapita, an old-school political operator of integrity, headhunted by the UN to head up one of its commissions. However, on a quick trip back to his homeland, the man he helped to become President of France is killed by a suicide bomber of Algerian descent, so everyone naturally assumes he was a terrorist. The President of the Senate (Philippe Magnan) takes over and starts to clamp down on security, but Kapita soons discovers that Magnan is hiding the bomber's true motivation for political advantage - he wants to become the new President. 

That's the plot for episode one. However, wisely for once, More4 aired the first two episodes on Friday, and it's a bit misleading for me to leave things there since although that deadly secret does remain an important plot point, the show moves on. It's then about Kapita first selecting a potential alternative candidate (Nathalie Baye), persuading her to run for office and then managing her campaign. Equally important is the fact that Kapita's protégé, the ambitious and trendy young Ludovic Desmeuze (Fitoussi), throws aside his integrity to run Magnan's campaign, pitting the two former friends against each other in an escalating political war.

Although comparisons to Borgen are obvious, the show is its own beast, having as much in common with that Danish show as it does with The West Wing, with Kapita's assembling of his political team reminiscent of that show's In The Shadow of Two Gunmen and he being almost as inspirational as Josiah Bartlett in his own, French way. 

But it's really a much darker show than both of them. I said Spin was a mistranslation and its French title gives you a better idea of the kind of show it is: Les hommes de l'ombre. As well as being a nice bit of aural word play, this means roughly both 'the men in the shadows' and 'the men behind the scenes', and indeed, the show is very much about Wolkowitch and Fitoussi as the hidden kingmakers*, working the cogs of democracy, unseen in the shadows, alongside governmental subterfuge.

It's also very good. While it doesn't have the gritty realism of Engrenages - or the industrial strength Parisian swearing - it's got a strong plot, interesting, albeit relatively conventional characters and situations, and some top acting. Although the female characters don't come out of it very well, they do at least get lots of things to do and the political machinations that we see do have a strong stench of reality to them. Despite the lack of black characters, the show also subtly flags up public racism and islamophobia - a far more topical issue now than it was back in 2012, of course.

Unfortunately, the show's somewhat let down by its English subtitling. The French dialogue is subtle, nuanced and economical; the subtitles are not. While they usually get most of the plot across, they often change the meaning of what's been said in significant ways (such as changing certain characters' perceptions of different political groups and leanings), and somewhat bizarrely do so even when a literal word-for-word translation would have been both more accurate and even better written. 

So take it from me - if the dialogue seems bad, it probably isn't in French.  

Well done then, Walter. Good choice. Just hire a better translator next time.

* Yes, France is a republic and Wolkowitch wants to get a woman elected. You know what I mean

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